In the nineties, there was a spoken word art piece that was set to music and ended up being quite popular for a time: “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen.” It was a pithy life-guide that got people’s attention. The only sure things in life are the simple ones, and this song articulated many simple truths set to a catchy beat. As I sit down to write this week’s column, I’m reminded of one of the lines from the song: “…know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum.” How true. I’ve always been a worrier. I worry about personal problems, and world events. It would seem no issue is too small or large for me to fret about. When U.S. troops invaded Granada in 1983, I was worried about that. I’m sure a lot of people were, but most of them were not four years old. I was. A limited military engagement on the Isle of Spices is not something most four-year-olds would concern themselves with. I did. I have no idea why, but for whatever reason, my brain happens to be wired that way.
Lately, there’s been no shortage of things to worry about. The world has a limitless supply of problems. Thanks to instant news, I get to be aware of most of them. I’ve got a business, kids, and a wife to worry about. I’ve got siblings, parents, and extended family to worry about. I’ve got that sales lead I forgot to follow up on last week, and a hundred other minor details to worry about. All this, and yet I also have a rational mind. I know that the words of the Sunscreen song are true. I might as well be chewing bubble gum. Still, at night when I lay down, I worry. In the morning, when I wake up, I worry. I most definitely sweat the small stuff. This leads me to an unavoidable conclusion: I’m a moron. It’s no surprise that despite a family history of good hair, mine fell out when I was 22. Stress I suppose. We all know how stressful it is to be 22 and have few responsibilities and a life of relative ease.
I do grasp for good news where I can though, so let’s see if we can scratch some out of this situation. Worry, like fear, can be an excellent motivator. In school, it made me turn in my assignments on time. In business, it has made me conscientious about getting back with people (despite that lead I lost last week), and trying to stay one step ahead. I was worried once about a property I was having trouble selling. In talking it over with a confidant they told me, “You know the difference in you and ‘Broker A’? He doesn’t lie awake and worry about this stuff.” Maybe that’s a good thing. My business is better than his lately. Maybe he would do well to worry a little more. For all his good thoughts and positive thinking classes, he’s failing at the task at hand. The guy with the worried mind is not. It’s true that I owe a part of my success to the fact that I can’t get some of this stuff out of my brain. At the end of the day, the fear of failure is what keeps driving me. If fear can motivate you to keep moving, it’s probably a good thing. It’s just a very respectful fear; not a paralyzing one. That respect has seen me through the first half of my life with just the right amount of failure and success. So I view fear and worry as friends, not enemies. Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” Having the courage to continue in spite of the worry is what’s hard sometimes, but I soldier on.
The other day I read a story about pessimists being better at their jobs. I’ve also read articles that say we live longer too, and that we’re more likely to develop dementia (not excited about that last one). A quick web search will offer lots of hits on the power of pessimism. I’ve always claimed to be a realist. Dealing in reality can make you look very pessimistic given the state of the world, but one thing I’m sure of: Pessimism is better for some of us than optimism. There is at least as much power in pessimism as in positive thinking, you just have to know how to channel it. So, if you’re one of those people on the other side, peddling optimistic claptrap, just remember that it doesn’t work for all of us. Some of us live on the darker side called the real world. We have plenty to worry about, but that awareness can be used for positive things. Gravity is a bit heartless when you fall, but it’s also the force that holds everything on this world in place. Worry holds some of us in place. So be it.
In reading an article from the Wall Street Journal last week, I was astounded to find that on average Americans work only three hours and twenty-eight minutes a day. Less than four hours per day? The heck you say. Granted, the findings were released based on a 2013 study from the Labor Department (so the source is suspect), but if it’s anywhere close to right it’s no wonder we’ve ceased space flights and haven’t cured cancer yet. The study also indicated that on average, Americans watch close to three hours of TV per day and spend another two and a half hours on sports and leisure. Those numbers did not shock me.
The story got me thinking about TV vines in the tobacco patch. What are TV vines, you say? Well, back in the good ole days when farming was done more with brute force and a hoe than herbicides, we would chop the weeds out by hand. When they would start to get a bit out of control, we would say that the TV vines were taking over. Those are the weeds you should have been hoeing while you were watching TV. In looking around the nation, I can’t help but see that the TV vines are taking over everywhere. Idle hands are the devil’s playground, so goes the adage. It sure looks like Satan has a heck of a vine crop going around here. From sea to shining sea, the vines are choking out the fruited plain to the point that it’s getting hard to find fruit.
The thing that doesn’t square with all this TV watching and sports and leisure is how much everyone claims to be working and suffering. From secretaries to teachers, and realtors to ranchers, all I ever hear is how everyone is overworked and underpaid. And that’s just those who are working. The people I run into on permanent disability (few of which are visibly disabled) are even worse. Their ailments are terrible, according to what they tell me. Whether they can’t work because of an emotional disorder, back trouble, or tendinitis, everyone is suffering, and no one is doing well. The strong economy of the 90’s was followed by a big boom and a bigger bust with the great recession, and the nation’s work muscles have collectively atrophied to the point that we are unable to compete the way we always have in the past. A lot of people have just given up, and a lot more are on the verge. So where do we go from here? Trying to live a well balanced life has never been easy. It’s true in the past that we may have spent too much time working and not enough time taking care of our families, but the statistics show that we should have plenty of time to take care of the family now. They also show that the family unit is dying at the same time. Once you step on the slippery slope of free time, it’s breakneck all the way to the bottom, and then you’re paralyzed. I’ve never been sure about how literal the Book of Genesis is, but I do feel it’s true regardless. Man got into trouble and got kicked out of a perfect setup in the Garden. Since then we have been doomed to scratch a living out of the ground that God cursed. When we stop scratching, the cursed ground stops providing. That’s a fact. America was once a pretty good setup, but at some point she stopped scratching. At the very least, she’s slowed down a great deal. As a result we find ourselves cursed. Could our idle hands be to blame?
These last few years I’ve not been troubled with an overabundance of free time. Running a business and raising a family in the current environment is time consuming, but I do have time to watch TV almost every night. I try not to work on Sunday, and I still manage to be there for many of the kids’ events. I’ve even been blessed to be able to help a few neighbors on occasion. The thing I try and remember is that these are all good obligations. Too much time on your hands is bad medicine for the soul. Busy and happy are not mutually exclusive. It’s a tragedy to have too much free time. I’ve never known anyone with an overabundance of free time that was truly happy. Being busy is a good thing. And I’m thankful to be busy. My message this week is a challenge. If you’re struggling finding happiness in your life, I invite you to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Help a neighbor, or a stranger, or take a second job. Go back to school. Hate your job? Get another one. Do something. Don’t just watch TV and complain. There are plenty of vines that need chopping, and if you don’t do it nobody will. May God bless you in your WORK.
One of the things I miss about the Executive Inn is the over-the-hill musical acts. I was fortunate enough to see a lot of top-rate music shows there in my teens and twenties. It was the perfect venue for acts that could no longer pack a stadium, but still had enough fans to draw a crowd. As a result, it attracted a lot of well polished acts that were just a few years past prime and could still put on a great show. It was basically the same people you have to drive to a casino to see now. Most of them were terrific, but every now and then, you’d catch one that should have retired a few years ago. Those were the guys that had lost all of their enthusiasm, and it was obvious they were just there for the cash.
I was reminded of one of those acts the other night when I happened upon a Kenny Loggins video on YouTube. It was from a performance he did at the Grand Canyon back in the early nineties. Just a few years past his heyday, it was one of the greatest performances you’ll ever see. The guy had it. I watched, mesmerized, and remarked to my wife on how great it was. After that video, I watched another one of him performing at some casino in 2013. It was not the same at all. Loggins of 2013 was more like a caricature of his former self. You could tell the heart was gone, and he was obviously tired of singing Footloose for thirty years, night after night. After watching it, I was forced to reflect on the age old question: Is it better to burn out or fade away?
The truly versatile artists change with the times and reinvent themselves so they can stay relevant year after year, decade after decade. These are the Johnny Cash types. They are always true to themselves, but they keep finding a way to connect to the audience instead of doing the same thing over and over. It would’ve been easy enough for Johnny to play Branson the last twenty years of his life. He didn’t have to make “The Man Comes Around,” but he did. Instead of a swan song from a frail old man, it was a tour de force from a legend that still could produce a masterpiece. The public is fickle, and they ignore even the best sometimes. The good ones keep striving though, searching for a way to still matter instead of resting on their laurels. I wish Kenny Loggins would look back at that Grand Canyon performance and try to remember what he’s capable of doing, but I doubt he will.
In my own business, now in its second decade, I too sometimes feel like I’ve been singing Footloose every day for too long. It’s always a different crowd of clients, but the songs are the same. They ask the same questions, I give the same responses. Not much changes in the dynamic because at the end of the day my job is not all that complicated. I provide a platform for people to sell their goods and give them advice on how to do it. My “greatest hit” has been telling them how to do it in a way that helps for a price they can actually afford. I could probably keep cashing in on that for the foreseeable future without ever changing too much, but I’m not sure that’s enough for me.
This month marks seven years since I went rogue and started offering full service real estate brokerage for a fraction of the cost. In honor of this momentous occasion, Farmer’s House has added a new song to the repertoire. We now have a plan that will guarantee your house sells in 3 months for a 3% commission or we’ll provide our marketing services for free. There are several stipulations that go along with that: You have to let me tell you what the fair market/ list price is. There are some up-front fees for inspection/service. And obviously, not all homes will qualify. No real estate purchase of a subsequent property is required though. For years, despite all our success in getting it done for 3%, some people have been reluctant to use us because it seems too good to be true. I’ve always been confident that we could get it done, so I think now it’s time to start putting my money where my mouth is. If you’re tired of hearing the same old song and dance from your real estate professional, maybe the next move should be with a different band. Since my singing and dancing skills are still pretty limited I’ll have to keep selling houses. We’ve come a long way these last seven years, but we’re not done innovating yet. And if there is a Johnny Cash of Owensboro home sales, you’d better believe it’s me. “Till things are brighter, I’m the man in black.”
Being trendy is the occupation of the vain and banal. That said, it’s always fun when you can be on the front end of one. Everyone has gotten ahead of the crowd a time or two; whether it was watching Downton Abbey that first season when it was so good, or having the first pair of parachute pants in your school thirty years ago. Most people have felt the guilty pleasure of being in on the ground floor of a fad. For someone as traditional as yours truly it’s tough to get ahead of the crowd on being trendy, but it does happen on occasion.
Several years ago, this column was first published as a sort of open letter with a contrarian view on open houses. This broker knew (after several years in the business hosting open houses) that the purpose of holding an open house was to promote the agent selling it, not necessarily the property for sale. Real buyers have access to lots of property information on the internet these days. They have no problem making an appointment to see a house that is worthy of their time. In fact, in the 21st century, I can think of very few reasons to open your house to the general public on any given Saturday. I knew then that open houses are about meeting people and passing out cards, and hoping that they call you back someday. I knew this. I felt other people should know it, so I shared. Little did I know that it would be the shot heard round the Ohio Valley. As an alternative to the traditional real estate model, Farmer’s House was still in its infancy then. I was trying to get the word out that there was a full service broker that could sell a house just as well as the expensive firms for about half the six percent commission of which traditional brokers have always been so fond. That one little open letter has morphed into something else over the years. It’s now a column where I share what’s on my mind, sometimes about real estate, most times not. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know you and you’ve gotten to know me. As someone you might consider hiring someday, it’s a good thing for you to know my worldview. I find writing cathartic, so it’s been good for my blood pressure as well.
Back to the trendsetting part… This weekend is the Greater Owensboro Realtor Association’s Open House weekend. Agents around the area will be promoting themselves this weekend using other people’s houses as a reason for you to meet them. And that’s fine. I’ve never said it was impossible that a buyer might stumble into an open house. All I’ve said is that there are plenty of better ways to promote a house that don’t include letting every Tom, Dick and Larry into the place to scope out your stuff and maybe leave their germs on your towel rack. And that’s where I was trendy. For once, the National Association of Realtors agrees with me. They opted to not hold the National Open House Weekend this year. In a survey last year by Inman News (see story at inman.com), 62.6% of Realtors admitted that the primary purpose of an open house was to promote Realtors and real estate professionals. Only about 20% said that the national open house event was intended to induce sales. NAR spokesperson, Sara Wiskerchen, said in a statement that, “the event had run its course.” I concur. The method of selling homes by having them open to the general public has indeed run its course. I don’t know if I was the first to say it, but I’ve said for years that buyers make appointments and lookers go to open houses. It’s good to see that NAR is finally owning up to that fact, even if the local association hasn’t caught on yet.
Like so many other things in the industry, Realtors could be of so much more service to the public if they would just be a little more honest with the public about what we do. We’ve made it too much about gimmick and not enough about skill. There are things you need from your real estate broker. A good knowledge of the market and an understanding of basic economics are two key ingredients to a good real estate agent. Insight into human behavior is another valuable asset. Not to brag on trendiness, but there’s another one where we’ve been a leader. Real estate service is getting cheaper. Six percent is no longer a sure thing. Competition has done its job, and there is more competition on price all the time. That’s good for the public. As it continues, the cream will continue to rise. Farmer’s House plans to be there. We’ll keep them honest and continue working to not only be the cheapest option for full service real estate brokerage, but the best.
It is the fate of every narcissist to view certain things as being signs just for them. Any hypocrite that ever spent Sunday morning in church after a Saturday night of sin knows this feeling. The scripture selected for that day just rips right to the heart of your recent weakness. Beads of sweat build up on a guilty forehead. Does everyone know? Can they see through the God-fearing facade to the heart of the hopeless sinner sitting in front of them?
That’s the feeling I’ve had for most of the week. There’s a quote that I don’t remember knowing that’s been following me around. It’s by Desiderius Erasmus: “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” As a hobby writer and novice blogger, I’ve already established a bit of a fan club. These groupies from church, business, and my family tell me how insightful my writing is. They’ve encouraged me to keep at it. This is dangerous for a narcissist. It’s enabling. There’s always that nagging voice in my head that says I stink, but it gets quiet sometimes with all this undeserved support. My narcissism has always been more of a reverse self love. Love and hate are very similar emotions, and my ego has always been fed by the love of hating my own shortcomings. This is why I have trouble dealing with my siblings. They remind me of my own worst faults, making them unbearable at times, but they’re not the theme of this piece which is: ME, ME, ME. The few clever lines I doll out are usually perceived as such, but I’m just waiting for someone to find out the truth. I’m not that clever. In a politically correct world, being direct can look clever. I’m very direct, but rarely smart. I was an average student in school. My only real skill is remembering dialogue from sitcoms that went off the air years ago and movies no one else remembers. I won the affection of my wife with clever lines stolen from such places. When you have an affinity for movies and shows no one else likes, it’s as if you have your own staff of writers and an endless supply of cool things to say. But life is not a sitcom.
Who is to blame for the narcissist I am? Mother and Dad? The culture? Nope. It’s me. See the pattern? I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about free will lately too. I’ve chosen my own path. Small choices made every day have led me to this spot at this time. Things that I didn’t understand at the time have had enormous consequences. I believe in free will, but I also believe in fate, destiny, a higher power, angels, heredity and environment. I believe that I am both God’s most loved creation and the most insignificant of beings at the same time. I don’t fault God though. It’s not the culture either. Kristofferson once called Johnny Cash a “walking contradiction.” That’s me, and there’s nobody to blame but me. Everyone is born alone and dies alone. The space in between involves fellow travelers, but the journey is a one-way ticket for one. The fact that anyone would celebrate my particular brand of brain garbage is beyond me, but I own it. It’s mine. A little old lady that I scarcely know stopped me after church the other day to congratulate me on how smart I was; feeding the monster that is my ego. I brushed off the comment, and I fear I offended her in doing so. I didn’t dismiss the compliment out of pride, but out of the self hatred that stems from knowing my own personal truth. It was undeserved.
In a land that has been bombed by sitcoms and young adult fiction, I’m just one of the few semi-enlightened beasts left roaming the countryside looking for a kernel of truth. The quotes that stick in my head, the contrarian views on history, the obstinate posture are all part of what makes me special. The truth is that I’m not that smart. I’m not that funny. In a world of chaos I’m in love with the thought that there are some absolute truths, and so I spend my days thinking about them. Football is not interesting to me. Politics looks more and more like a game for losers. The truth is the only thing that fascinates me. I wish I could turn it off, and sometimes I get distracted, but it’s always nagging me to come back. I’m not king. Not by a long shot. But with my one good eye I catch a glimpse of the truth on occasion. Sometimes I can articulate what I saw. I guess people like that. Go figure. Good for ME!
Instant gratification is making infants out of us all. From smart-phones to internet shopping, we can’t wait for anything anymore, and it’s reaching hysterical levels. This is no more evident than in the recent canonization of John Paul II and John XXIII by the Church of Rome. The Vatican seems hell bent on destroying whatever credibility it has left as a moral authority, and has reduced the process of acknowledging saints to one more akin to naming MVP’s in a professional sports league. I can imagine that statement will arouse shrieks from some of my Catholic brethren, so allow me to explain my position before you dismiss it.
Infants are demanding creatures. Feed me, or I’ll scream. Change me, or I’ll scream. Comfort me, or I’ll scream. Such is the behavior of the modern human adult. Addicted to Facebook and fast food, the modern first world human has all of life’s needs at their fingertips. It’s the classic chicken and egg argument, but who knows if we were infantilized by our institutions or if we have demanded that our institutions treat us like infants. The state tells us to wear our seatbelt, for our own good. Buy health insurance, for our own good. Drink fewer sodas, for our own good. Just like the state, the pseudo-state of the Vatican has started to follow a similar pattern. The process of recognizing saints was once something that might take centuries. John Paul II himself canonized several saints from the 17th-19th century. So why the breakneck speed for these two recent popes who were canonized last month? My theory is that it’s related to another ancient Roman practice: Bread and Circuses. It’s a distraction from the problems within the Church. Perhaps some of you have been paying attention and noticed that, in addition to the decades long sex scandals, the Vatican has recently been in the news for drug smuggling and money laundering. Here in America, a number of prominent church leaders have been scandalized for using donated funds to enrich their own personal lives with retreat villas and vacation mansions. What better way to distract from an organization that needs a thorough house cleaning than to point out two recent success stories. But does their success hold up to scrutiny? Not really.
It pains me to point it out, but John Paul II, despite all his work towards thwarting the evil of communism, was not without flaws. No one ever mentions that he presided over years of mismanagement and corruption. The scandals that have destroyed families and whole dioceses took place under his papacy. It strains credulity to think that he didn’t know about the abuse that was going on during the 80’s and 90’s, and it’s hard to imagine he didn’t somehow participate in the efforts to cover it up. That’s the type of thing a canon lawyer might have brought up during the canonization process, had John himself not changed the process for recognizing saints in the 80’s. That practice, which had stood for hundreds of years, led to hundreds more saints being elevated during the papacy of JPII than all his twentieth century predecessors combined.
John XXIII on the other hand convened the greatest disaster to besiege the Church since the Reformation, Vatican II. No, I don’t think the Earth is flat. I’m not someone who wants to study Latin to be able to understand the Mass, but Vatican II coincides with what has been a precipitous decline in attendance, participation, religious orders, and ordinations. To the casual observer, it might appear to have had a few flaws. It was a drastic and radical change in an organization that is rooted in tradition. Excuse me for not thinking it was divinely inspired. It led to churches being stripped of their beauty, rituals being stripped of their mysticism, and in effect it stripped the faith right out of the hearts of millions. It might’ve been okay to wait a few more years before we used it as one of the justifications for naming “Good Pope John” a saint.
Maybe both John’s are saints. Heaven’s a big place, and God’s forgiveness is such that even someone like me still hopes to make it through the cull. It is my sincere hope that Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Saint John XXIII greet me at the Pearly Gate and we all have a long laugh about this article. Maybe they’ll be standing with a bunch of other unsuspected saints. I don’t know. What I do know is that the infants wanted a big Woodstock style canonization party in Rome to declare some MVP’s. Someone needed to be a Dad and say, “No, you have to wait.” You’d think the Pope would have been up to the challenge. It’s sad that he wasn’t.
A few weeks ago I heard a Ronnie Milsap song that I had forgotten about. “It Was Almost Like a Song,” I think. It reminded me of how much I enjoyed listening to him years ago when he was constantly on the radio, so I decided to Youtube him and listen to some of his other stuff. I came across a performance from an awards show in the early eighties when he performed live with another great, Ray Charles. Two super talents, right? When I found it, I thought, “That should be good.” As I watched with great anticipation of what I was sure would be a show stopping performance, it unfolded as more of a train wreck. They sounded horrible. Cat strangulation came to mind. Nearly thirty years ago, and it was still embarrassing to watch. Two singular talents back to back, masters of their instruments, stunk up the stage to a degree that would’ve gotten them booed at most high school talent shows. Everybody has an off day.
Sales pitches are not unlike performance art. Real estate is an extremely competitive business. Due to the fact that it is so easy to get a license to practice, there are tons of people vying for listings. If you’re going to succeed you need good game. You either have to be very good at what you do, or flashy enough to put on a good show. There are plenty of Miley Cyrus types out there. No substance, no depth, but enough sex appeal and studio trickery to impress a public that is not really all that deep anyway. Then there are the novelty acts. They use gimmickry and clever phrasing to package their product in a way that engages people and gets them hooked. These are the Jimmy Buffet performers. Don’t get me wrong, I like the occasional “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” but he won’t go down in history as one of the greatest artists of a generation. Those of us without flash, without sex appeal, and without gimmicks have to rely on the fact that we can actually sing. Sometimes that’s not even enough.
Most people only sell a few houses in their life. Some think it’s easy peasy and choose to try and do it without professional help. Others find the task daunting and hire someone immediately. I’ve always recommended that you interview more than one agent before hiring someone. Sure, there are plenty of people you go to church with that have their license, and there’s that guy at work that’s doing it on the side. Odds are they are not the real deal though. It pays to shop around a little bit. When you’re doing it, remember to ask plenty of questions, like these: How many transactions did you do last year? The average agent does about 12 a year. A good one does double that. A very good one does forty plus. How long have you been in business? What problems do you see that we have to overcome with marketing my house? If they don’t see anything but sunshine and lollipops, beware. A good agent will tell you the good and the bad about your house. One that has nothing but good things to say is probably not being honest with you (unless of course your part of the <5% of the population with a near perfect house). At the end of the day it comes down to whether you have someone who knows their stuff or not. Most people make the mistake of asking about marketing techniques and promotion. That stuff matters and varies some, but most agents are going to use the same tools. That part’s not as important as you think. Think about it. All singers use a microphone, but some put better quality vocals through it than others. The quality of the artist matters most.
Every now and then I’ve given a bad performance in my career. I guess it’s been on my mind because I got showed up by a Miley a while back and I’ve been holding onto it too long. Watching Ronnie reminded me that even though I have high standards, it’s okay to have a bad night occasionally.
If you’re going to be in the market, let’s consider this a pre-interview. Personally, I had 69 transaction sides last year and I’m in my 12th year in the business. This year looks to be another personal sales record too. There are a few in town that do more than me, but I’m fairly certain none of them spend as much time on a tractor as I do. As for the problems with your house, you can count on me to list them bluntly. I’m as subtle as a knee to the groin sometimes. It’s my biggest fault. It might sound a touch arrogant, but Ronnie Milsap knows he can sing; even if he had an off performance in 1983. Consider me the Ronnie Milsap of Owensboro real estate. Farmer’s House also has fees of about 3% instead of 6%, and that’s downright s e x y if you ask me. Peace.